A Fleeting Animal Returns!

         August 31, 2014

This is the first of a series of blog posts about the return of A Fleeting Animal, my opera collaboration with Vermont writer David Budbill. The original production was highly acclaimed in 2000, and over the years, people have been asking when it would be staged again.

At last, we have an answer: September 2015! A dedicated committee, called Right Here Productions, is in the process of booking six Vermont locations and raising funds for a thoroughly professional set of performances. This new production is made possible with the help of Monteverdi Music School of Montpelier, acting as our fiscal agent. We’re off to a great start and invite you to join other early donors who are helping us raise the funds needed to secure contracts with the musicians. Contributions in any amount are welcome!

Now for a little background:

Fifteen years ago at this time I had just begun composing music for an opera, a commission from Vermont Opera Theater. While I had yearned to work in this medium for 25 years, this was my first opportunity to do so. I was both excited and scared.

I wanted to use a Vermont story for the libretto. I looked at several other works, but kept coming back to David Budbill’s Judevine. I’d never met David, but I called him up and asked whether anyone had ever created an opera from the play and if not, whether he’d be willing to work with me on one. He replied “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second, and we were off and running. Out of all the story lines in Judevine we decided to concentrate on the love and tragedy of Tommy, the returning Vietnam veteran, and Grace, a poor single mother from the small Northeast Kingdom town, as it presented the most suitable central narrative for the opera. We called it A Fleeting Animal, taken from the title of a poem Tommy writes for Grace in the play.

Once the libretto was mostly finished I went to work with a formidable task ahead of me: to craft a full-length opera and have it ready so it could be rehearsed and then performed in October 2000. Somehow I managed, mainly because David’s characters and their lives were absolutely compelling and drew me in. I finally understood what the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky meant when he said that he was the vessel through which the Rite of Spring passed. It felt at times as if the piece almost composed itself and I only acted as the scribe writing down the notes. In any case, despite many obstacles, the premiere performances were wonderful, and the cast, instrumentalists and artistic directors created moving experiences for audiences, themselves and us creators.

Naively, I expected the piece to take off, to garner offers for performances elsewhere, but I quickly learned that little is harder to do in the artistic world than to get a second set of performances of an opera. And so, despite our best efforts, A Fleeting Animal lay untouched for 13 years. That is, until two members of my music appreciation class approached me last fall. They’d been talking with Joan Stepenske of Vermont Opera Theater, who told them about A Fleeting Animal, and they asked me to discuss it in class. When I did, the response was so positive that I felt energized and determined to bring it back. David and I met, agreed on a timeline and a plan of action that included putting together a committee to help us. In May of this year Right Here Productions was born. With its creative and energetic members, we’ve already made more progress than I thought possible.

While we’re raising funds, I’m hard at work re-copying the score and revising parts of the opera for this new production. We’re expending a lot of energy because we all believe passionately in this project. A Fleeting Animal is coming back! Stay tuned for more updates from other Right Here Productions members.

Erik Nielsen

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